Originally created 03/18/03

Stocks trade sharply higher, Dow jumps more than 280



NEW YORK -- The growing likelihood of war with Iraq sent stocks rallying for a fourth straight session Monday, as investors became confident the United States would prevail in a short-lived conflict. The Dow Jones industrial average surged more than 280 points, catapulting itself to a four-day win of more than 600 points.

Investors who had feared that war would threaten the economy are increasingly optimistic about the outcome of a conflict with Iraq.

A brief war "allows businesses to stop waiting and watching and get back to spending and hiring. And, it allows consumers gets back to spending. ... (It) should put the shaky (economic) recovery back on more solid footing," said Joseph Keating, chief investment officer at AmSouth Asset Management in Birmingham, Ala.

However, analysts say stocks can't sustain a meaningful advance until the situation with Iraq becomes more clear.

The Dow was up 282.21, or 3.6 percent, at 8,141.92. The Dow has climbed 617.86 in four days, allowing it on Monday to close above the 8,000 level for the first time in nearly a month, or since Feb. 21, when it stood at 8,018.11.

Monday's advance supplanted the Dow's 269-point gain on Thursday as its biggest one-day gain in five months, or since Oct. 15, when the blue chip average rose 378.28 to 8,255.68.

The broader market also rallied sharply higher. The Nasdaq composite index jumped 51.93, or 3.9 percent, to 1,392.26. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 29.52, or 3.5 percent, to 862.79.

While war worries have depressed the market for months, investors in recent sessions have been buying on the belief that there will be a rally after war begins. That is the market's pattern in past conflicts, including the Gulf War in 1991.

"We are getting closer and closer to some sort of conclusive event, and people are trying to position themselves for that," said Brian Belski, fundamental market strategist at US Bancorp Piper Jaffray.

The market advanced following announcements that the United States, Britain and Spain had ended their efforts to win U.N. support for a war and that President Bush would give Saddam Hussein an ultimatum during an address to the nation Monday night.

Last week, the market's indicators posted weekly gains, snapping their two-week losing streak, on investors growing confidence about a war. Still, the recent rallies have simply put the major indexes back to levels last seen a month ago.

The retailing sector traded higher on upbeat news about sales and profits. Wal-Mart advanced $2.61 to $51.97 after reaffirming its March and April sales forecasts.

Dollar General rose $1.71 to $12.48 after the discount retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat analysts' expectations by 2 cents a share.

Oil stocks rose in anticipation that a war would bring down crude prices. Royal Dutch climbed $1.25 to $40.15 and Exxon Mobil rose 66 cents to $35.05.

Other winners included Charles Schwab, which advanced 82 cents to $7.49 after the brokerage company announced it was buying back $250 million worth of its stock. And, Cardinal Health climbed $3.45 to $53.76 after Bear Stearns upgraded it to "outperform."

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners more than 3 to 1 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was moderate.

The Russell 2000 index, the barometer smaller company stocks, rose 11.01, or 3.1 percent, to 365.40.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average finished Monday down 1.6 percent. In Europe, stocks shrugged off earlier losses to advance on the U.S. market's lead. France's CAC-40 and Britain's FTSE 100 each gained 3.4 percent and Germany's DAX index climbed 3.5 percent.

On the Net:

New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com

Nasdaq Stock Market: http://www.nasdaq.com